Tag Archives: usb

USB converter woes

USB to rs232 converters are just never sold properly advertising what chip’s inside and right now I want to know if this one UART I’m working with perhaps is not playing fine with my existing converter cable.

I have this XScale PXA270 on a toradex-colibriboard, and it has only one full featured RS232 (FFUART) and I’m about to move things over to the lesser featured BTUART.

A theory is that my current USB converter that is based on a “Prolific PL2303” doesn’t play nicely on the serial port that isn’t a full RS232.

So I ran off and bought a new cable. I grabbed the only model I found in my local Kjell & Company store – it’s quite different looking than my existing but there’s no hint anywhere on the package or inside of it that says what chipset that empowers it.

A quick drive back home (I’m working from home in this assignment), I plugged it in and I got to see this depressingly familiar dmesg output:

usbcore: registered new interface driver usbserial
usbserial: USB Serial support registered for generic
usbcore: registered new interface driver usbserial_generic
usbserial: USB Serial Driver core
usbserial: USB Serial support registered for pl2303
pl2303 2-2.4:1.0: pl2303 converter detected
usb 2-2.4: pl2303 converter now attached to ttyUSB0
usbcore: registered new interface driver pl2303
pl2303: Prolific PL2303 USB to serial adaptor driver

So what now? I hate how (my) computers these days don’t have serial ports while the entire embedded world still very much uses them. I think I’ll go searching in my closet to see if I can find an old crap computer with a serial port to try.

Another theory is that the port simply is broken hw-wise on the dev board but that’s harder to check for me right now.

Update: it was (as usual) only my stupidity that prevented this from working. If I switch it over to the correct baudrate the usb converter does fine. But before I found that out, I did find a computer with a serial port and I did see it working on that too…

Rockbox USB – A Long Journey

The road to get a fully working and enabled mass-storage USB stack in Rockbox has been long and bumpy.


Back in the early days of mp3 players, they all had bridge-chips which basically meant that the entire USB handling was handled by a dedicated chip that also “took control” of the hard drive (right, most of the interesting players used hard drives initially) so Rockbox didn’t have to do much except hand over control, show something nice on the screen in the mean time and then when the plug was pulled, regain control of the drive again and continue working.

But similar to how early players used dedicated HW-solutions to do music playback and then ditched that for pure CPU-powered solutions, the HW-solutions for USB also died out and all recent models do USB in software.


The PortalPlayer chips being notorious for their complete lack of public docs were more or less considered impossibly hard to get USB working on by us. Until MrH came along 2006 and figured out that the USB parts of the PP5024 chip (used in the sansa e200v1 models) was identical to the USB core used by Freescale’s imx31 chip and there are public docs available for that.

Software Stack

The first step towards a software USB stack for Rockbox was taken in the 2007 gsoc, when Christian “austriancoder” Gmeiner took on the task. He went for a Linux-kernel inspired and quite ambitious approach that at the end of the gsoc project still didn’t quite work. The plan was at that point to primarily write a driver for the Sandisk Sansa e200 series, and secondary for other PortalPlayer based targets (such as ipods etc).

Made Working

Enter Björn “Zagor” Stenberg who had a much more minimalistic approach. Not being pleased with the “big” approach Christian had provided, the existing code was simply cut out and replaced with the new leaner version. Focus was then to get something small and simple to work, and then add fancier layers or features later on instead of providing the architecture for that already from the start. The stack started to partially work for mass-storage.

Not Yet Stable

USB wizard Frank Gevaerts joined the effort and worked fiercely on the thing and not only did he bring USB serial support (that does enable things like logf() support to debug rockbox) he also made the mass storage support almost reliable. The non-existing docs for the hardware made the remaining few flaws very hard to catch and the development of the stack stood still at this point for a great while.

Meanwhile, the USB stack could successfully be used on various new (in the Rockbox sense, these models are no longer new on the mp3 player market) targets like the Toshiba Gigabeat S and the Onda series etc. Parts of the Cowon D2 reverse engineering was greatly enhanced thanks to the USB stack as figuring out the FTL is even more tricky without a fine way to get data over to the host PC. All this proved that the stack itself worked nicely but that there were target-specific inits or setups that were missing for the PortalPlayer targets.

Of course the other new targets were not PortalPlayer based so it took efforts from clueful hackers like Vitja Makarov to implement the hardware driver for the TCC chips and Maurus Cuelenaere who did the driver for the Onda.


Now, in 2009 our reverse engineering hero Boris “dreamlayers” Gjenero banged his head against the problem and by doing really nice disassembly he figured out previously not done initiation sequences. These have now been committed to the Rockbox SVN respository, and the early tests of this are very promising showing the mass storage support to be very close to get supported “out of the box” on the PortalPlayer 5022 based targets now. The PP5020 ones still seem unstable, and we have no support on the PP5002 ones.

If things just proceed this fine, we’ll be able to ship Rockbox’s own USB stack by default in the upcoming 3.2 release!


At Wed, 25 Feb 2009 23:40:15 +0100, the USB code was enabled in the SVN code: “Enable USB mass storage on PP5020, PP5022 and PP5024 targets”


Updates: this post was updated several times to gain accuracy and truths pointed out to me by Dave Chapman, Björn Stenberg, Frank Gevaerts, Jens Arnold and others. Thanks!

My phone does not replace my Rockbox

I have one of them mp3 capable mobile phones and I have a 4GB NAND flash inserted in it that is packed with music I like. Yet I never end up using it as a music player.

I see people everywhere use their phones for music and I repeatedly read and hear the soon coming death of the portable music player being predicted not far away by opinion-expressing know-it-allers.

My phone plays mp3 files just fine, but there are several reasons why I don’t use it for that. The primary one being that it gets a lousy battery run-time if I do that, and if I’d run down the battery all the way when listening to music then how would I be able to use the phone for regular voice? With a separate (Rockbox) device I can listen to music until the last drop of power goes out without hampering my communication abilities.

In my particular case, my phone’s lack of a proper standard USB port and it’s lack of anything but “full speed” (and yes full speed is less than high speed and is a lot slower than it sounds) when connecting it using the custom cable to my Linux box are two more reasons. Not to mention that it has this “database-only” approach to the music which I really don’t like – but yeah, I can learn to live with it.

Besides, it’ll be a while longer until I can hack my phone to run Rockbox and thus work the way I want it. Let’s hope Android or OpenMoko or similar efforts actually make it possible one day.